Tag Archives: friendship

To those who hold a paddle

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One of the hardest parts about living on a different continent is the relational trauma it causes. For some, time and distance define the construct of how much another person is capable of mattering. For others, it’s as if we all live in a bizarre 1959 episode of Twilight Zone where time and distance don’t seem to exist…. another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind.

Or maybe they just know how to use the internet.

While I don’t like the feeling that I’m growing out of certain relationships and growing into others, I’m not sure why that feeling makes me so uncomfortable. It doesn’t seem realistic that through all of life’s changing tides, the person whom we chose to be our soulmate when we were in grade school would be our soulmate after life has thrashed us both about a bit. But, sometimes they still are. And sometimes, a great friend in one context turns out to be a black hole, sucking all joy out of your life, in another. (Cue Twilight Zone theme song). We grow and we change. People we once trusted break our trust and sometimes break our hearts, perhaps even forcing us into waters so rough that forgiveness cannot tread.

So, the question I’m struggling with is when is the right time to let go, to give up, to give in, to throw in the towel. I’m exhausted from trying to keep relationships afloat that would otherwise sink. How long can you be the only one paddling the boat before your arms give out?

Home is where my feet are. I realize that there’s an extra effort involved in being my friend because of that. I can’t just grab a quick cup of coffee or attend barbecues and ugly sweater parties because I’m not usually around for them. The only way people know what’s going on in my life is if they ignore the thousands of miles and several time zones dividing us, find time to not be “busy,” and embrace the technology and time differences required to stay involved. I’m constantly surprised by the people who find the effort worth it and the ones who don’t.

I have friends that I’ve had my whole life, many of whom I’ll know until death takes whichever of us first. But some of my strongest, most cherished relationships are those that are newer, but based on love and respect, and yes, a lot of effort. If that commitment doesn’t exude from both sides, no matter how long ago the foundation was set, no new growth, and only deterioration can occur.

And sometimes, I know, the best answer is to do nothing. Let those who want to walk away (or swim, for the sake of analogy) go. I’m fortunate to have so many people in my life who are committed to loving me and who will row along beside me. I should express it to them more often because I cherish my them so damn much. As for the others, well, the inescapable end that haunts us all is too close to worry about anyone unwilling to pick up a a paddle.

Buongiorno Milano!

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Shopping Center

Milan’s cobblestone streets are flooded with Italian women wrapped tightly in fur coats and men in designer jeans and studded belts. Nodding heads on subway cars look more like Ralph Lauren billboards than tired passengers heading home from a day of work. This city has a pulse and it beats rapidly, deeply through the night and early into the morning. Where I can pass as a local in some places, Italy knows better. My pale skin, pale hair and blue eyes cause long stares and incoherent words under soft breath. Men whistle as they pass by, staring too long with eager lust in their eyes. But even the greatest offense sounds beautiful when it is muttered in Italian.

This language shakes and breathes and dives in and out and up and down. Every word sounds like a call to action, a battle cry, a plea to join a cause. And the people lift their arms high, and put their hands close to your face and speak with a passion I’ve not experienced in my most heated moments. Hymns sung to Beethoven’s Fifth in an intense and frightening way to an ear that knows no better. The metro hums with chatter and booming laughter and a sense of famiglia encapsulates the city and all of the people inside it.

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

We visit the Duomo, a beautiful, skyscraping cathedral, if there ever was such a thing. Never have I seen so much art in one place. Every inch is ornate and ironic in the most beautiful way: the walls, covered in sculptures up to the ceilings, which you can barely see with human eyes; stained glass windows stretch beyond my grip of sight; the floor, a maze of complicated patterns and colors; paintings hang, two-up all the way down the church on either side. We try to make sense of everything our body is trying to absorb, but we fail and become overwhelmed, groggy from the dim lights and evaporating holy water. We leave the church, letting ourselves get lost, wandering narrow streets; every turn a new discovery, a new way to get lost again and again. We are asked for change, harassed by people on the streets collecting money for ‘Africa’ or to feed their hungry babies. We push past, pretending not to understand, and stop at a tobacco shop to enjoy a freshly rolled cigarette on a cold patio, surrounded by like-minded  locals.

And on a Thursday night, we walk into a small bar, where we are greeted by a group of men, laughing and eating cichete and drinking the local birra. Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!! echoes around us in a room with walls covered in old newspapers, slot machines lining the back perimeter. We swiftly and quietly order “due birre” from the bar and take our place at a small table in the corner. We quickly learn that’s not how Italians make friends. We are stoned to death with questions, and brought endless plates of formaggio and freshly sliced prosciutto,  deviled eggs, cheeses, salami, bread and  chips and dips. Every time we finish one plate, another one comes to replace it. Arthur works on a computer in the corner, ridden with unnecessary programs and a long history of user error. He tries to navigate Windows in Italian, and the men joke, calling him Bill Gates, gesturing to his over-sized head. They string together sentences in Italian and broken English, furrowing their brows when we don’t understand, then burning paper and building charades with toothpicks to help us along. They laugh because we don’t understand much; Armando, who knows the most English translates what he cans, and makes inappropriate gestures to either party in between his translations. The men tease each other with gay jokes and pepper their sentences with ‘fuck’ as often as possible. They apologize because I’m a girl, and immediately joke that they will take me home with them; their wives will forgive them tomorrow, they say.

IMG_0786Then a free round of beers come before the bar closes, but we stay inside, laughing and eating, filling the room with the sweet, choking smell of competing tobaccos. The owner pulls out his camera, points to his wall of photos, and we spend the next 15 minutes posing for pictures we’ll never see. We part ways, but not before receiving an invitation for the next night, which we know we will accept. And we will come back the next night, but it won’t be quite the same. These fleeting moments are never able to be repeated, and so we cherish them even more.

Day 54: Knowing When to Run

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I have an addictive personality. When I decide I need a pair of red pants, I do not rest until I have them. I go for an Oreo and end up eating the whole bag. I go out for a drink with a friend, and wake up the next morning on a couch of a friend of a friend of a friend. I go all in when I do anything. It’s a terrible, nagging habit that I wish I didn’t have.

The same is to say with people in my life. I don’t like giving up on anyone. I’ve done it before, but in most cases, I end up emailing and calling and texting like a crazy ex-girlfriend until my apology is accepted or a restraining order is issued. I have a hard time letting go of people I care about or people who I want to care about me. I hate feeling like I hurt someone’s feelings. Worse than that, I hate feeling like someone doesn’t care if I’m in their life or not.

And that’s something that really drives me crazy. To feel like someone you care about, someone that you may even love, doesn’t care if you give up on them, if you walk away. I’m not talking about walking away and turning into a pillar of salt because you never truly wanted to go. I’m not talking about making frivolous threats to get someone’s attention. I mean making the difficult decision to leave someone you care about because you fear they will never understand the way you need to be loved. Walking away because you’ve tried over and over again, you’ve given all you have, but you’re still caught in a web, having your insides sucked out. I’m talking about making the decision to stop chasing someone who may not want you, and give them the chance to run – to see if they’ll even put their sneakers on to come after you. Its a dangerous game to play.

This only seems to prove my twisted addiction for cruel forms of punishment. It’s as if I enjoy the thought of suffering from a crushed spirit. Maybe I read too much from the Buddha. Not all forms of suffering are enlightening.

“To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.” – Viktor Frankl

I don’t like giving ultimatums. In my limited experience, they shut people down and I end up with a thing I never wanted. But sometimes, you have to be able to say no, knowing what it may mean. You have to break the bad habit of making excuses for someone who doesn’t treat you right. You have to face your addiction and start your own intervention. You have to walk away, knowing that no one will come after you, but hoping that you’re wrong. And when you turn out to be right, don’t let it get you down. I think that maybe it will lead you closer to someone who you won’t have to chase at all one day.

I’m glad that I love myself enough to be able to walk away from something that isn’t good for me, for someone who doesn’t think I’m worth following. A lot of people end up running their whole lives, chasing after something that may not even exist. I’m tired of the running. I’m ready to take my shoes off and stand still for a while.

Day 50: Care Bear

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Today, I’m thankful for one of my best friends on the planet, Ms. Carrie Stribling. I could have easily written this post last week, while I was in Phoenix and staying with her and Jake. We had a great time entertaining ourselves all week, the same way we have since we were in grade school. But, after talking to her until late last night because I was upset, and continuing our conversation again throughout the day today (thanks to Voxer… you’ll get a post soon too my little voice-activated friend) I realized how valuable a friendship is that you don’t have to be physically around for.

So, let me take a minute and tell you why she’s so great. First. She works really hard. She not only works a full time job, but she also runs her own photography business, and she’s actually really good at taking pictures. I’m not saying that in an obligatory ‘she’s my friend so I have of’ sort of way. When I first saw her work I was shocked. Not because I didn’t think she was capable, but because I didn’t realize we were at a place in our lives where we  were able to be really good at something. She’s creative not just in her job, but in the rest of her life as well. She’s planning an adorable wedding, she can draw, she blogs, photographs, works for a design company… she has a vision and she makes it work. She took a risk to do the thing that she loved, even though a lot of people told her that it wasn’t a stable form of work. She started out slow, but now she has a steady stream of work, and her skills continue to grow with every shoot. You can see for yourself here.

So there’s that. The hard work, integrity thing that makes you say, “wow, that person really gives a shit about their life.” I can’t help but admire that in a person.

Second. It’s who she is as a person. It’s only fitting her “pet name” in high school was Care Bear. (Sorry, “nickname” wasn’t quite the right word there). Carrie doesn’t only give a shit about her life, but she gives a shit about other people’s too. We were joking tonight that we will always be the people that cling onto the leg of a person trying to run from us, the way a toddler does when it wants to be picked up. Carrie will always be the apologizer, even if she don’t completely understand the reason for it. Not to be insincere when apologizing, but to be completely dedicated to a friend and a relationship. And she always is. She notices when people around her are off, if only just a little. She’ll follow you to the bathroom to hold your hand when no one else even noticed you were crying. And she doesn’t tell you everything will be okay because she knows you know that. She just lets you be sad, and then she hugs you and tells you she loves you.

And I’ll end with one more – although I could go on for the remaining 90 days.

I love how much she’s able to love. I can honestly say she knows the darkest, most character-degrading deeds I’ve committed, and she loves me anyway. She’s had a hard time telling me things in the past, but she trusted enough to let me in so that I know her twisted, hard-to-tell stories too. And then there’s Jake. Soon to be husband, always to be a character. They just fit together. He’s thrust her into change (I know he’d appreciate my word choice there) and she’s made him an honest man. They’ve been through it, but she loves him so unconditionally. Little Ms. Life-Plan-to-be-Married-and-have-Babies-by-25 put in almost nine solid years and her blue print is with the engineers. Pretty soon she’ll have 14 kids and that many more to love.

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So, at risk of sounding like a complete lesbian, I just want to express gratitude for one of my very best friends, and part of my family. When I was out dress shopping with Carrie and her mom last week, her mom said that she thinks we all got to be so close because we all had brothers and no sisters. I think that may have something to do with it.

We found our own sisters in the world.

Who would have guessed our taste would have been so spot-on as third-graders. I love you Carebear. I’m so excited to see where you let life take you.

Day 41: Sting like a Butterfly

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There’s a theory in communication called the Social Exchange Theory. It’s based on a system of costs and rewards you assign to relationships. Basically, when you feel that the costs outweigh the rewards, you terminate the relationship because you no longer get any pleasure out of it. I’ve certainly terminated a few relationships in my short lifetime. There are people who I used to be extremely close to that I began dreading being around. People who drained the optimism out of me just by being themselves. I never want to turn my back on anyone, but I don’t want to spend the limited time I have surrounded by black holes who suck the happiness out of the room either. That sounds grim, but there are unfortunately people who have that effect on me.

I know fights happen. I know that people get mad about things that don’t always make sense to others. I tend to consider myself a pretty go-with-the-flow sort of person. I tend to care more about resolving a conflict than expending the energy it takes to be upset about it. Afterall, we learn about each other through stepping on toes, hurting feelings, and punching it out. If you’re mad, there’s hope. When you become apathetic is when you should consider if a relationship has any place in your life.

I fight with my mom more than anyone else in the world. We’re finally at this magical place where we can yell and scream and get it all out, then take a breath to cool off and laugh at how ridiculous we are. When you love someone, pride has no place in your relationship – saying sorry is easy because it’s not important who is right or wrong – all that matters is that they know you love them. When you love someone, you get in the ring, take a few swings, then take a shower and buy them a latte. As long as the person gets in the ring with you, the fighting lets you get to know that person even better, it makes you closer, lets you love each other just a little more.

I have that relationship with a lot of people. Today, I realized that I’m glad that I’m the kind of person who will throw off my gloves and take a few hits, but I’m never too proud to apologize, or compromise, or do what I have to for someone I love. In the scheme of life, being right seems to be the least important thing of all.

Day 38: Painted Desert

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Today was action packed with so much fun. I woke up and did yoga on the patio (in the shade, mind you) and then got around with the girls to take a day-trip up to Prescott. The weather was about 15 degrees cooler, and the grass is about 40 shades greener. We had a lazy day, wandering the streets, snacking liberally and enjoying time in the car with familiar music and a painted landscape. This is the part of Arizona that people forget is here.

Day 19: Katie

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This project to find something every day to be thankful for has made me realize how many little things happen in my life that I enjoy so much. Some of them are small, like a good nail polish color or getting a free drink at Starbucks, and some are a lot bigger, like being healthy, having a good family and having everything I need. Because of 140 days of Prague, I remind myself all day, multiple times a day, how many great little things are happening all around me. And the funny thing is, they always have been. Now, I just have my eyes open because I know, at the end of the day, I get to pick the thing that tickled me most and talk about it. Bad things don’t seem so bad, and the little pleasures become larger.

So, everyday, I find myself being thankful for 140 Days to Prague. I’m sure I drive anyone crazy who follows my blog with posting so much, but this is the best therapy I’ve ever had… and I’ve seen professionals.

Back to today. I woke up this morning and talked to my dear friend, Katie for a while. We’ve been trying for weeks to catch each other. With a 13 hour time difference and extremely busy lives, today was the first day we were able to take a full hour and catch up.

Today, I’m thankful to be friends with Katie.

I’m sure many more of these will come because I love so many of my friends so much, but Katie and I had a good chat this morning, so she’s up first. The usual catching up, plus a little bit of politics, a little bit of philosophy, a lot of life.

We haven’t known each other very long – we were no more than acquaintances during college. It wasn’t until after we both graduated and she commented on a facebook post of mine that we even started talking. Although she is on the other side of the world and we haven’t known each other very long, I love that we can sit on the phone and chat about life openly and without judgement. I don’t know many people who I can have meaningful conversation, disagree with on a topic, and still enjoy the discussion so much. If Katie and I would not have become friends, I’m not sure I ever would have taken the leap to Prague. I look up to her courage, her spontaneity, and the joy she gets from life. I know it’s going to be a while until I get to see her again, but I know we will be friends for a long time.

I’m thankful you’re in my life, Katie!